Curtis Hanson, Director of Modern Classics, Dies at 71
TMZ reports some very sad news: Curtis Hanson, the director of movies like L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys, and 8 Mile, has died. Their sources say that he was found dead in his home in Hollywood of what “appears to have been a heart attack.”
Hanson’s output slowed in recent years, but through the 1990s and into the early 2000s he was one of the most exciting directors in mainstream Hollywood. He made the ultimate evil babysitter movie, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, in 1992, and followed it with one of Meryl Streep’s rare action movies, The River Wild, in 1994. Then his greatest work, L.A. Confidential, based on a mammoth James Ellroy novel that was supposedly unfilmable. Hanson and co-writer Brian Helgeland not only wrestled the thing into cinematic shape, they made a neo-noir masterpiece and a multi-Oscar winner (including one for Hanson and Helgeland’s incredible screenplay).
From there Hanson probably could have lived comfortably making crime films for the rest of his days. Instead, he pivoted and directed Wonder Boys, a very different sort of adaptation from a novel by Michael Chabon. In one of his best roles, Michael Douglas played an author and lit professor struggling to finish a novel. That film won an Oscar too (for Bob Dylan’s original song on the soundtrack “Things Have Changed”). Hanson followed that with what might have been his most impressive accomplishment: Coaxing a moving performance out of Eminem in 8 Mile, the loose biopic of the rapper’s early days in Detroit. His final film was 2012’s Chasing Mavericks, which had to be completed by another director, Michael Apted, after Hanson’s health declined during production.
I saw L.A. Confidential when I was 16 years old, and it immediately became one of my favorite films. It hit me at just the right age, and it was one of the first movies I truly became obsessed with. I had never seen anything like it before, and it sent me off on a journey of discovery through movies and literature. Over the next year, I read every James Ellroy novel I could get my hands on, and started renting every classic film noir stocked at my local Blockbuster Video. (Which, sadly, wasn’t many.)
I’ve owned L.A. Confidential on VHS, two different DVDs (regular and special editions), and Blu-ray; it’s the only movie I’ve ever quadruple-dipped. I’ve watched it at least 30 times (a conservative estimate), and committed most of it to memory down to the littlest details; the inflection of Danny DeVito’s voice when he says “Very... hush hush!” and the clickety-clack of the typewriter sound effects that accompany the introductions of the cops played by Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, and Kevin Spacey.
I vividly remember seeing L.A. Confidential for the first time, now almost 20 years ago, at the Regal Marlboro Cinema 8 in suburban New Jersey. I even remember my seat in the auditorium (on the center aisle, near the back). That movie theater was torn down years ago. And now Hanson is gone as well. But L.A. Confidential, and many other great Curtis Hanson films, will be with us forever.